I love bialies, but they have only rarely played a part in my regular eating. If you're unfamiliar with them, they're a very distant cousin of the bagel, crusty and and intensely chewy where bagels are crisp on the outside and soft and dough-y within. Also, as you can see, the bialy has an indentation instead of a hole, created to secure a filling of (traditionally) onion strands and poppy seeds.

They were created in a small city in Poland, Bialystok, and would probably have remained there if it hadn't been for the immigration of Jews from there to New York City, where the bialy found a foothold. This was a good thing, too, since the Nazi occupation of Poland left Bialystok without Jews and without bialies as well, or so mi).mi Sheraton discovered when she went there hoping to find a bialy in its once native habitat. (Her book, The Bialy Eaters, is the definitive work on the subject and a very interesting read: part history, part detective story, and part moving collocation of many elderly peoples memory of times long past.) Now, it's native habitat is in New York City, and even there it is an endangered species.

I first encountered bialies when I lived briefly on the Lower East Side back in the early 1960s. In those days, there was a branch of Kossar's, the world's premiere bialy bakery, on East 14th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A, and I became a regular customer. As I remember, they were fifteen cents each then (cheaper by the half dozen), and I used to bring a couple and a piece of cheese with me to work for lunch, to the good-natured derision of my fellow mailroom employees, who found me an endlessly entertaining exotic.

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